Personal Data Harvesting and How To Reduce Your Digital Footprint

smart ways to reduce your digital footprint and personally identifiable information

It is time to tackle the growing problem of removing your personal data from uncontrolled online displays, and there are solutions within your grasp.

Let’s face some hard-core facts about life online. We spend a tremendous amount of time with our electronic devices connected to the internet. Websites track our activities, and mobile apps go everywhere with us and follow what we do. Data brokers are constantly looking for bits and pieces that allow them to maintain a high-risk personal profile on us.

Like it or not, this is business. The business is targeting you with personalized sales pitches, barraging you with online fraud scams, and harvesting clues to your internet identity. According to various industry reports in recent years, more than 4,000 data broker sites are collecting data on over 500 million consumers.

Plus, you probably have painted a convenient picture of yourself with plenty of clues to your online identity using social media. So never doubt that your personally identifiable information (PII) is exposed to hackers and people trackers, putting your personal and financial security at risk.

This article will help you become more aware of evildoers’ tactics to track and attack you digitally as they attempt to steal your data and online identity and make you a prime target for ransomware. Familiarize yourself with these strategies to delete your data from public record websites and other online dens of inequity.

Scrub Yourself From the Internet

Typically, personal data is harvested, bought, and sold repeatedly. It is difficult to know who has your information, so it becomes a constant game of monitoring where your data resides, often only to find that it resurfaces someplace new.

Information on the internet is so pervasive that trying to wipe your information clean with a broad-stroke solution is next to impossible. Search engines — Google has the biggest footprint in this regard — continually aggregate information about people and businesses. Add to that your social media and website presence. All those bits and pieces of data about you make it nearly impossible to keep your name from appearing in search results.

Many data broker sites harvest your personal information, gleaning your life’s details from public records and your online activity. It’s a good practice to periodically search for news about yourself because data, once removed, can again pop up elsewhere.

You can make the job of cleansing your online identity more manageable by taking smaller, more targeted strokes that reduce the available information about you. Do what people hunters do — search for your name and see what details and web sources show up in the results. Start with the biggest, Google, and make a list of where you find the most detailed data dumps about yourself.

Next, make yourself less searchable. Begin the process with your default web browser. Go into the browser’s setting panel and look for Data and Privacy headings, then turn off history settings and Web and App Activity records. Repeat the process in whatever secondary browsers you use.

Review your profile details in the “About Me” sections of the apps you use and the privacy and security settings in social media apps and business listings. Consider removing as much personal, intricate information as possible from what you do and say online. That includes photos and other family images, as well as apps such as Facebook and LinkedIn to restrict who has access to your most sensitive information.

Remove Your Personal Data From Public Records Sites

The growing focus on personal privacy online is forcing changes to how businesses wheel and deal with your data. Some of the barriers and stall tactics data brokers and search engine companies used to make it difficult for you to rip your personal information from their online warehouses have softened.

Here is a list of major data collection websites to consider targeting for the removal of information requests to help protect your privacy:

  • BeenVerified
  • Intelius
  • PeopleFinders
  • PeekYou
  • Radaris
  • WhitePages

You can contact these online personal information mills and have them remove at least some of the private details they have about you. Sometimes, you can even deny them permission to sell your information.

Often, all it takes is checking their websites to find their contact directions for sending an email to request a deletion. Some offer an online form to request the removal of your information.

Outside Help To Gain Control of PII

When it comes to keeping tabs on your personally identifiable information online, the more you look, the more you find. Embarking on a whack-a-mole privacy campaign can wear down all but the most dogged defenders.

To mitigate the Lone Ranger approach, you can seek the help of data removal services. These companies use their own servers and search tools to automate the process for you. Subscribing to removal services that constantly scour and remove private data can be a good investment.

Some data removal companies excel at doing this better than others. Be wary of free services or those that offer bargain basement discounts. If you are not pleased with one company’s results, try another. The monthly or annual fees may be worthwhile to help make your data disappear from the web. Some of these data removal services offer a free trial to give you a chance to gauge their effectiveness.

In no particular order of preference, here are some services to check out:

  • OneRep claims to remove your personal and family information from Google and 190-plus other websites.
  • BrandYourself is an online reputation management and privacy company that offers solutions for individuals and businesses.
  • DeleteMe is a privacy information removal service that specializes in removing your personal information from Google’s vast search reporting network.
  • Incogni deals directly with data brokers, so you do not have to spend hours safeguarding the display of where you live, your phone number, and where you like to hang out on the weekends from falling into the wrong hands. It uses applicable privacy laws to force data brokers to remove your personal information from their databases.
  • Privacy Bee helps to opt out of data broker databases and marketing lists.

Do It Yourself Privacy Options

If you are more at ease doing the web scrubbing yourself, several websites can help you achieve your privacy goal. Check out these handy web-based tools to fight your personal data privacy campaign.

  • Mine lets you find where your personal data is located around the web. It can help you reduce your online exposure to better ensure control of your data ownership.
  • Unroll.Me is a toolbox for dealing with the clutter that often builds up with online subscriptions. It automates the process of managing and canceling your digital trail with the potential sharing of your contact information. Take note, however, that Unroll.Me is owned by e-commerce measurement firm NielsenIQ, so read their data collection and use policies when evaluating the service for privacy purposes.
  • Jumbo Privacy is a mobile app that helps you control your digital presence. It monitors the content in messages you send to limit unrestricted personal data sharing. It can be a tool to help you reduce already shared digital traces. It constantly scans the internet for signs that your data has been compromised.
  • Just Delete Me is a website and browser extension that helps you remove your accounts from many web services. It uses a color-coding system to show whether the deletion process on some 100 web services is easy, not so easy, or difficult.

We hope these tips to limit the exposure of your personal data will help safeguard your digital experience and protect your identity, your reputation, and your assets.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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